Allon sinai 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With many sports in Israel, including soccer and basketball, on the verge of a meltdown both professionally and financially, the country's windsurfers proved last week that when all else fails Israel's sports fans can turn to the seas for some encouragement.
The star of the show was once more Shahar Zubari.
The remarkable 22-year-old, who made sure the Israeli delegation didn't return home from the Beijing Olympics empty-handed last summer, claiming a bronze medal in the RS:X competition, was crowned European windsurfing Champion in Tel Aviv on Saturday, cementing his place as one of Israel's top athletes.
It was just as impressive to see the depth of quality in Israeli windsurfing.
Ma'ayan Davidovich finished the women's contest in seventh position after battling for a medal throughout the week, with three of her countrywomen ending the event in the top 20.
Three more Israeli surfers also finished in the top 20 of the men's competition, with Nimrod Mashiah the second-best placed Israeli behind Zubari in 10th position overall.
Last week's European Championships were just further proof that when it comes to international success, the country's windsurfers and sailors tower above their fellow Israeli athletes.
In windsurfing alone, Israel has accumulated some 19 medals at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships over the past 17 years, with the country's 470 Class sailors also succeeding on a consistent basis down the years.
The impetus behind Israel's windsurfing and sailing triumphs over the past 18 years has been Israel Yachting Association chairman, Yehuda Mayan.
A former sailor himself, Mayan, is confident that the sport will continue to thrive in the coming years.
"We are the number 1 sport in the country when it comes to achievements," Mayan told me on Tuesday.
"We may not be the most popular sport, but when you take into account what we have accomplished we are clearly number 1. I don't think there is any other sport which has produced so many medals at the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships."
Mayan is generally pleased with the way the establishment treats his sport, but believes far more can be achieved with a larger budget and thinks forward planning is the key to future exploits in all sports.
"The budget we receive is never sufficient and had it been bigger we could have accomplished even greater feats," Mayan said.
"Instead of waiting for a champion to come along and then investing in the sport, we need to invest in the athletes from a young age and develop them into champions, as we've done in windsurfing."
The victories of the past and the current work done at the IYA give Israeli sports fans plenty of reasons for optimism that the country's windsurfers and sailors will once more scale the Olympic podium in the London Games in 2012.
Mayan is confident that will indeed be the case, but in the meantime he knows only hard work will maintain the position of windsurfing and sailing as rare rays of light in an otherwise almost pitch dark Israeli sports scene.
"Our continuing success depends entirely on the fact that we don't rest on our laurels," Mayan said. "Our goal is to return from the London Games with an Olympic medal."